July 27, 2010 11:38:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State''s track and field programs are in trusted hands after the university announced Monday the promotions of veteran coach Al Schmidt and longtime assistant and alumnus Steve Dudley.
After 22 seasons leading MSU''s track teams, Schmidt will now work as director of track and field. He will oversee day-to-day operations at Spencer Stadium/Maddox Track and continue to recruit.
Dudley, a former MSU distance runner for Schmidt from 1991-95, has been promoted to head coach. He served the past 10 years as Schmidt''s associate head coach.
Both moves require approval by the Board of Trustees, Institutions of Higher Learning.
Dudley has helped coach more than 25 All-Americans MSU has produced since 2000, but his greatest strength is convincing Southeastern Conference caliber athletes to come to Starkville, Schmidt said.
"That''s my right-hand man, and has been for quite a few years," Schmidt said of their 20-year relationship. "He deserves to be head track coach, and I''m happy (MSU Director of Athletics) Scott Stricklin and our president (Dr. Mark Keenum) are on board with the idea."
The coaching change comes at a booming period for MSU, as the $3.2 million renovation of Spencer Stadium/Maddox Track will be completed in time for both college meets the Bulldogs will host next year.
MSU notched a seventh-place SEC championship finish and took 17th at nationals this season. Men''s sprint wins at Penn Relays and Texas Relays highlighted an impressive showing.
As programs grow, someone will be needed to oversee the progress and to think about the big picture.
That job will fall to Schmidt, who will remain in charge of the women''s middle distance runners on a day-to-day basis.
"I''ll be a little bit like the Godfather," Schmidt said. "We''ve got to get the facility finished and we''ve got meets we need to plan for. I want to try and bring top-10 teams to this town every year, score meets against them, and give our fans something to watch.
"Now I don''t have to worry about the grinding stuff like graduation rates and keeping up with everyone''s classes."
Schmidt spent 22 years as head coach at MSU and 36 years as a coach at the Division I level. He won two national championships as an assistant at Florida State before coming to Starkville.
Going outside the family wouldn''t have been a don-like move for Schmidt, and, as expected, the idea wasn''t a part of the equation when restructuring was discussed with Keenum and Stricklin.
Dudley''s approach to recruiting, training, and building the MSU brand make him the perfect coach to take the reigns, Schmidt said.
The SEC, widely recognized as the most competitive college sports conference, can be a gamut for a program without the resources, facilities, tradition, or hardware to attract top-flight talent. But Dudley champions the lure of competing in the top conference and practicing with top-flight athletes at MSU.
"People get caught up in our operating budget and how it relates to the rest of the SEC. But if you look at the other schools in the NCAA, we''re probably top 30," Dudley said. "I judge where we are as a program by how well we do at nationals. We''ve been top 20 the past two years.
"When you look at it like that, being in the SEC is a huge positive."
That''s not to say competing in the league is any easier, as track dynamos Florida, LSU, South Carolina, and Arkansas are annual national contenders. Schmidt often has said the SEC championships are more challenging than NCAA regionals, which means SEC teams will continue to fight for the nation''s best athletes.
Dudley''s pitch? Come join our family.
"I think the No. 1 thing people ask me is, ''How''d you get that kid to come to Mississippi State?''" Dudley said. "Being a product of this university helps tremendously. Others would have a hard time showing that enthusiasm and passion if they hadn''t ran here, got two degrees here, and coached here for 10 years. The kids I have here get better when they''re here, and they''re very passionate about wearing that MSU suit.
"They made it to where whatever I had to say to a recruit there was already evidence on the track. I''ve got to thank all the athletes I''ve coached for helping me get there."
Dudley said the team''s sprint focus will remain intact, with up-and-comers Daundre Barnaby and James Harris set to join All-Americans Tavaris Tate, D''Angelo Cherry, Kendall May, and Emanuel Mayers. He hopes to bolster MSU''s results in field and distance events.
"I realize we''ve scored a lot in middle sprints since I''ve been here, but if an athlete can score points I don''t care what event it''s in," Dudley said. "We just need to continue getting good athletes."